American Literature 1865-present
Journal entry #4
Stephen Crane’s “Maggie; a girl of the streets.”
It’s easy for me to see why this piece by Crane is acclaimed as the premier piece in the move from romanticism to realism/naturalism.
While he may have embellished somewhat, the details in this story of life in a tenement, rife with poverty, in the Bowery of New York City, he makes it believable at the same time. Could such a scenario exist in real life? I think so; although I’m not sure the extreme naiveté of Maggie is quite believable. Anyone subject to the constant mental and physical abuse to which she was and who can come away seemingly unaffected is a little farfetched in my mind. But if the purpose, and I think it was his purpose, was to gain a sympathetic audience then He succeeded.
Painting a picture of hopes dashed he appeals to the humanistic qualities in every person. Then he smashes those hopes and makes suicide the answer. He could have taken this ending in a different direction but the impact would have been so much less dramatic.
This is a piece of in-your-face realism written for the express purpose to unveil the tragedy of slum life in America, to gain sympathy and perhaps effect change; to demand an outcry from the public that the powers that be i.e. the politicians would be pressed to make some meaningful changes.
It’s hard to say for sure whether this story was a catalyst for social reform and the labor movement in America, but the very fact that it survived to be read here over one hundred years later tells us that it impacted America’s thoughts about slum conditions.
The sad thing is that Stephen Crane could find in too many cities today the situation unchanged. Even in the America of social services and a plethora of laws to protect the poor and destitute, the populace turns an unseeing eye past the inhumanity of man to man and the cycle continues unchanged into the future.
How can we make the proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” the law of the land, of the world?
The facts scream at us from the 21st century slums; what you’ve done to fix the problem hasn’t worked. Do something different.